Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Interview with E.T. of E.T. by Dave Wolff

Interview with E.T. of E.T.

Tell the readers how long you have been a musician and the different musical projects you have been involved in since you started.
I've been playing guitar and singing since I was about seven years old. I started writing songs around the age of fifteen and playing local open mics. I guess the first real band I played in was as the vocalist for Ion Prophecy. The next few bands I was in were Baby Invincible (bass), The Scams (guitar/vox) and The Unsatisfied (bass) and finally the duo JEET. I spent the longest period with The Unsatisfied. I've always enjoyed playing in bands but playing acoustic solo has always been my go-to.
The past couple of years since the JEET project ran its course, I have been traveling around The Southeastern U.S. playing anywhere that I can. I played over a hundred sets last year. I had built up a good circuit and had made music my primary income until the pandemic came along and put a stop to all things music. When it became obvious that I would be able to play live sets for a while I decided to release "For All The People". The three songs on that EP were written after JEET ended. I briefly thought I might continue trying to playing sets with a looping pedal. That's just not something I feel comfortable doing as a solo act. Too much work, too little enjoyment… for me anyway. So I released the EP and started writing acoustic solo songs again. I believe I've done some of my best writing during the pandemic. Hopefully those songs will be recorded soon and an album or another EP released.

How would you describe the local music scene in Chattanooga, Tennessee where you are based? How has the viral outbreak affected the industry?
For years the Chattanooga music scene only had a couple of venues. Only one or two of which would let you play no matter your "status". In the past five or so years more venues had come to town and there were plenty of places for everyone to play. We were riding high until the pandemic came along. Sadly venues seem to be dropping like flies. Most recently Songbirds guitar museum and venue. That is a HUGE loss. I know so many people out of work. Musicians of course, but also a lot of people that are often left out of the conversation when it comes to live music… sound folks, crew folks, lighting folks, bartenders, venue staff of all walks, buyers/bookers and on down the line. I'm sure, with time, most will recover but it sure is a HARD road for so many. For some, live streams and merch sales help a bit but it just isn't the same. There's nothing like connecting with an audience in a live setting. It is my refuge. I miss it.

How do people you know from Chattanooga deal with club closures since the outbreak? Which states were you playing beforehand and what do you miss most about performing?
So far there aren't many musicians playing out. Tennessee still has a mask mandate and social distancing means most performances are outdoors. I assume getting sets at venues that hold 200+ is going to be a rare thing for local acts for a little while. I think eventually other venues will pop up. For now we're just hoping more doors don't have to close permanently.
I was mostly in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. My booker had me pretty well set up with a circuit that kept me busy most weekends. I had a weekly couple hours at a local brewery called Wanderlinger. I played just about every Sunday for over a year. I miss the connection with an audience, when every songs a line or two together. It's a powerful thing that brings see joy to everyone involved. And of course I miss being able to pay my bills without using my savings.

What were the club scenes like in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama about a year ago, before the virus? In all three states is there still an atmosphere of intolerance from the Bible Belt?
There's intolerance pretty much everywhere isn’t there? I have yet to have experienced intolerance in any venue that made me want to not go back. Except the one time I can recall. A local place where someone actually asked Derrtie, at his own show, if any more colored people would be showing up. Same place I had played before and cops had come in hassling people for ID's. The only time I've ever had the pleasure of singing over cops barking orders they are harassing.

Did you release any material with your older bands that is still available in physical or digital format? How much did your vision gel with the other members of those bands?
I don't know where you'd even find some of that stuff. The band's I've been in were never good at doing anything but playing shows. For the most part we weren't looking to get spins or selling music or merch. We just wanted to rock out with our friends and fans. That changed when I joined The Unsatisfied right as they released “Songs the Belt Taught Us”. You can find that album on just about every streaming service. We made a few music videos. I'm most proud of directing, filming and editing the music video for “Morbius”. We also made videos for “The Lovin”, which I also directed and shot and partially edited, and “Apocalypse of Joan”. You can find those on The Unsatisfied's YouTube page. We did a studio recording for “Blood Gospel” but that was one of the worst experiences any of us had ever had in a studio. I loved every bit of time I spent with all of those bands. I've never been in a band that I didn't gel with. Sure we had our ups victories and disagreements but we all had the same vision of making music. I was always happy just to be a part of it.

How much more of your own vision do you get to express with your solo project compared to your former bands?
With bands, I have never wanted to do anything but contribute. I'd write licks, help with arrangements and write a lyric here and there but I always envisioned being PART of a band so I rarely led in any aspect. When creating solo material I usually write about very personal things. Especially the past few years. At the time my Mama passed, I hadn't written a song for a couple years. Since then, songwriting is THE outlet that helps me process things. There are private things I won't go into but it's safe to say I have no shortage of things to write about. Those things come out as a song on their own time. I try not to force anything when writing. For me, I'm most satisfied with a song when it comes out on its own. I'm not sure I could ever get the therapy of writing songs like that with a band.

Do your early punk roots still show in your recent recordings in one form or another? What other genres are you drawing from these days?
I assume it does. I haven't really thought about it. I'm still listening to all my favorites on a regular basis. I've been on a New York Dolls and Clash trip lately. I will give everything at least one listen. A few of my recent favorites are Daniel Donato, Sierra Ferrell, The Atomic Bitchwax, The Vixen, Mac Miller, All Them Witches. There’s no shortage of good music. I think REAL music IS punk. My idea of being labeled "punk" is that I don't conform or try to fit in. I am who I am. It is what it is. I always try to be real.

Where are those bands you cited as favorites based? Are these mostly US bands or do some of them come from overseas?
A few of those acts are based in Nashville. Sierra Ferrell, Donato, ATW. There are so many great Nashville bands of every genre. Thelma And The Sleaze and Chelsea Lovitt are other Nashville favorites. The Atomic Bitchwax are from Jersey and The Vixen is from Chicago. Mac Miller is no longer with us. Overseas bands I listen to a lot are bands like Turbonegro and Refused. 

Do those bands you listen to most often stream their music? Provide some addresses so readers can find them.
Sierra Ferrell is on Bandcamp. I'm pretty sure all the others can be found on Spotify. Daniel Donato, T.A.T.S., Sierra and Chelsea all have frequent Instagram action. Donato is a creative force.

Why do you think punk is still relevant today, in spite of the mainstream’s continued lack of understanding of punk music and culture?
I think punk is much more than a genre of music or a dress code. It has more to do with an attitude of nonconformity and rebellion than what you sound or look like. Being yourself despite the norms will always exist. Punk rock will always be the music of the minority… even if it gets mainstream attention.

What is your definition of a punk attitude, as far as being rebellious and nonconformist? Some see it as something you’re supposed to grow out of once you reach your twenties; do you grow out of it or grow on your own terms?
I was always an outsider as a kid. I learned early on to accept it and adapt. I never wanted any association with most other kids because they were usually bullies. I guess when it comes to pop-culture's view of it, punks are portrayed as mean instead of fed up, as violent instead of nit taking bullshit and a just another group that dresses alike and listens to the same music. I think those who you end up identifying with are as much your family as kinfolk. I don't think you grow out of who you are. You either conform or you don't. I don't mean "sell out"... that's all perspective. I want to know people that are true to their beliefs and morals while staying open minded enough to change. Those are my people.

What would your definition of selling out be? And is it better to grow in your tastes on your own terms than to do so because others expect it of you? Why not just listen to what you like?
For me, selling out would be going against my own morals or convictions. Absolutely I think it's better to just be who you are. If you like a Mohawk, wear a Mohawk. If you like tie dyes, do that. I do both and I don't care what people think about it. 

What did you think of the CBGB movie if you saw it? Some reviewers considered it a distorted vision of 70s punk, even going so far as to say the portrayal of the bands was character assassination. What is your perception of it?
I think Alan Rickman playing Hilly was right the fuck on. I wasn't there for any of what CBGB was known for, but I know it was magic. I enjoyed the movie. I'm a fan of all those bands. I imagine the only opinions that matter when it comes to the portrayal of the bands are those of the actual bands. I don't put a lot of stock into what others think of music or paintings or movies. I like what moves me. 

Did you see any recent documentaries about punk, or any that aired in the 2000s? If you’ve seen any, which of them do you think was the most factual, enough to recommend to people?
There's a documentary about The Unsatisfied on Amazon called "Ambition Withdraw". I can personally vouch for its authenticity. It was made before I was in the band. I actually helped film some of it. I was there when Eric threw the rock into the TV and it exploded. We weren't expecting that big of an explosion. I mean we knew it would blow, but not like it did. I just knew Eric had lost an eye.

If you were to make a movie about the local punk scene or one about US punk in general, what sort of a movie would it be? How would fans of punk and punk’s subgenres would respond to it?
It would have to be a historical documentary if I was to make it. I always want to know more about The Runaways, Ian MacKaye, Joe Strummer, Ramones, Johnny Thunders and Death. On and on. The history is what I'm interested in.

In the 2020s can punk still have the impact it had from the 70s to the 90s? 
Can it make an impact? Yes. Will it? Who knows. I know there is a lot of oppression and that seems to spark creative forces. A lot of the people that once loved Rage Against the Machine are now against anyone even protesting. I don't know if music can change people's minds anymore. 

How liberating is it for you to write more personal lyrics in your solo project? How do you decide what you write about and what you prefer to keep personal?
I'd much rather write about something real from my life than attempt to make something up. I'm not one to shy away from telling the truth. I write lyrics whenever they come to me, no matter how personal. I've written songs about my issues with addiction, how I deal with death and learning to play guitar from my Papaw (grandfather). Just about every major life experience I've had has a song written about it. I share all of them in some form. Some of them I don't play live because I can't stay on top of the emotion. The song “This I Know” from my last EP “Project Life” is about losing my Mama and I've only played it live a handful of times. It always makes someone in the audience cry. After the set they'll tell me why it made them emotional and we usually share some tears together. It is rewarding and painful at the same time. Isn't that life.

Are there moments when listeners or casual listeners find the lyrics you write about your personal experiences too intense, perhaps judging them as being negative? 
I've had friends express concern about my mental well-being but never had anyone show any negativity. Even my darkest lyrics are often about the light at the end of the tunnel.

About your song “This I Know,” how do you personally feel when you play it in front of an audience? How strongly do you feel the memories of your mother at those moments?
I try to not feel or think too much about it while I'm playing that song. Of course I feel obligated to put some feeling into the performance. Out of the handful of times I've played it live, a couple of them I've had to pause and catch my breath to keep from getting overwhelmed with emotion. The conversations with people afterwards are even harder. At the same time, they are some of the deepest and real interactions I've ever had with audience members. Anyone who has lost their mother, or anyone close really, can feel the song. I guess that's what music is for.

Tell the readers about writing your songs dealing with addiction, death and your memories of your grandfather. Which of those do you play live and which are kept off your set list? 
I write whatever comes out. I've not had a drink or abused drugs in over sixteen years but the horror of it all remains fresh as I watch others go through it… or die. I've lost so many friends to OD and suicide. Two this year. Anytime a subject is heavy on me I write about it. Writing, playing and singing has always been my one sure way out of the darkness. “This I Know” is the only song I shy away from performing. It's the only song that makes me that emotional.

Would you say that finding a connection with audience members who have had similar experiences is a kind of healing for everyone involved?
It is definitely healing. I believe it always helps people to be reassured they aren't alone in what they are going through. I think that's why most people connect to music/art. Especially when people talk to the person the art came from, it kind of cements the reality that they are going to make it through, if only because they no longer feel as alone and unsure as they did before that connection. Art, in all its forms, is universal language. You can't have five people commenting on a Facebook post without some disagreement. But you get those same people, and thousands more, in the same room with some band pouring everything out and everyone is a part of that and we all stand united. Art heals.

Does your songs’ personal nature make your listenership something more meaningful than stereotypical perceptions of underground music?
When I get a personal connection with an audience member, that's all I need to be satisfied with being open and vulnerable and putting my truth into the songs.

How many songs did you have written and composed before you started working on your EP? How much of a process was it to choose what was included on it?
JEET made thirteen demos and recorded one single “For Your Soul”. When that project was over I wrote three more songs around looped beats thinking that was the road I wanted to continue down. Exploring and experimenting with a looping pedal is fun but it quickly became apparent that it wasn't something I wanted to do by myself. I wrote and recorded those three songs for the “For All The People” EP and put that experience to bed. For now anyway. Never say never.

How do you write and arrange the music to fit the lyrics of your solo project? Do you have to be in the same state of mind to produce a fitting soundtrack? 
99% of my lyrics are written at the same time as the music. With JEET, I was the music writer and JE would either write lyrics on top of that or choose some he already had down. Some people write that way but for the most part it not the way songs come out of me.

If you were to decide on resurrecting JEET at some point, would you take it in the same direction as before or do something different with it?
I highly doubt that project has any future. If it did, it would be the same eclectic craziness it always was.

Tell the readers about the recording process of your EP “For All The People” which is streaming on Bandcamp. How much exposure has that site gotten for you and where else can it be heard? Are you releasing it on CD or will it strictly be a digital release? 
The recording process was the smoothest of any I've had. Probably because it was just me and the producer/engineer. I chose Derrtie at GPAlien (Gravity Productions) because, in my opinion, he's one of the best I've heard. The guy can do everything. And do it well. The process was straightforward. I went in and recorded one song each day. Derrtie would mix and send it to me for approval within a day or two. Easiest studio time I've ever had. 
Bandcamp has been a good chunk of my income during this pandemic. I always post my stuff on Bandcamp as free downloads and let people pay what they want, if they want. People are fairly generous with tipping. The “For All The People” EP is available on every major outlet. Spotify seems to be the most listened to. I had hoped to release physical copies but being out of work for five months has decided the fate. Most likely, “FATP” will remain a digital-only release.

How long has Derrtie been a producer and engineer? Who else has he worked with and how beneficial has his experience been to you?
Derrtie says, “I've been engineering since I was in high school (class of 2008), and started taking my productions seriously in 2015. I've mostly worked with talented friends. I have engineered and produced Destiny Surreal, Eric Scealf & Wayno, Bob Carty, Damien Bowen, and a few underground rappers. To me, the experience of making “FATP” made me feel like I was a part of a band, opposed to just making a beat and mixing some tracks. It was all new and refreshing, and all my family members enjoy it so that’s a plus.”
Like I said, the studio experience and end result are the best thing I've ever done in a studio. I know how to make a decent beat using my keyboard and a looping pedal. I know not-a-damn-thing about software and plugins. I had heard Derrtie's album “Alternate Realities” and was just floored with not just his lyrics but his unique beats. Powerful but not pretentious. Just the right amount of boom. The perfect amount of chill. Once I had the songs for “FATP” written, I knew I wanted Derrtie to produce it. I had high expectations. They were exceeded. 

Does Derrtie have his own recording studio? If so, is the atmosphere generally a more relaxed one to work in? Do you plan to work with him on future ET releases?
Derrtie just moved to Myrtle Beach and currently has a home studio along with his wife's art studio. Their home always revolves around art and music. It is very easy for me to relax and feel comfortable in any place where that is the case. I absolutely plan to do another EP with him. Road trip!

What recording equipment does Derrtie have at his studio? Does he have a preference for analog equipment, or is there more digital equipment to work with? Which of those worked best for your material?
Derrtie is straight digital. Logic Pro with plugins, midi keyboard, and Blue mic for vocals. Digital was what I was looking for with "For All The People". I wanted that big fucking 808 bass. It called for electronic beats. It may be somewhat of a nod to the music I had access to as an 80's kid having to sneak to hear anything besides gospel.

Do you prefer releasing and promoting your work independently instead of doing it through a label? Do you receive offers from indie labels to help distribute “For All The People”?
Complete control over your art is both a blessing and a curse. Ego has to play a part but too much of only mine and I start thinking I know something and I will rest on my laurels. I need and welcome input but I don't like ultimatums. Especially when it comes to my art. The plan with the “FATP” EP was to shop it and at least get some help with distribution and marketing it. I had also hoped to release it alongside music videos/short film for each song but filming anything was out the window. We had only filmed enough for maybe one song. Then the pandemic hit and I went from traveling around playing music and filming it... to sitting on my couch. So I decided to just go ahead and pop the cork and share it to help lift some spirits (including mine) and maybe sell some tracks and merch. I released "For All The People" March 16, 2020 on Bandcamp as a "pay what you want" download. It is so different from what I usually do that I didn’t know what reaction I would get from people. So far, people dig it. It's made to be a car-driving, sit back, relax and bob your head kind of thing. Serious content put to a not-so-serious vibe.

What can you tell of the video you were able to make? Was it released officially after the pandemic hit? How much footage could you record altogether?
We only filmed. We never got the video(s) made. Mostly the footage we filmed was in Warm Springs, GA. I'm a FDR fanatic. What a man. What a human. He was the epitome of "pushing through" to accomplish what you set your path to. I hate we didn't get to use that footage from the Little White House. My buddy Patrick Black was the camera guy. 

Where were you planning to shop “FATP” for distroing? If you got in touch with any labels or distros, were you able to remain in contact with them since the Covid outbreak? 
I didn't get that far. The recording was finished in late 2019 but I was waiting for the music videos to shop and release it. The brakes got put on everything rather unexpectedly.

Are there new lyrics you’ve written during the pandemic this past year? What kind of an impact do you think Covid is going to have on the local scene this fall and winter and into next year?
I've written several songs since the pandemic. I think the most pertinent to what we're discussing would be my latest, "Fragile Bend". Intentional use of FB in the title. I introduce it as a song I wrote about the absolute bullshit and garbage that is social media. It is a song about people looking at things without any middle ground. Just black or white, left or right. The idea that you must agree with everyone on everything is fucking ridiculous. As for the music scene around here, I think we're all just sitting in our hands waiting to play at whatever venues remain when this pandemic clears. Hopefully the downtime has been used for creativity and we'll have a wealth of new music. A local band Strung Like A Horse is releasing their album "Whoa" soon. It was written before the pandemic but the subject matter is timely. "Fuck What They Think" is one of my most favorite songs ever. I think that release will help keep national eyes on Chattanooga. Keep an ear out for it.

What are you planning to record or film and release next? Is there a specific time you have in mind or are you waiting to see at this point? How do you plan to advertise and promote it when it eventually comes out? 
Everything is so uncertain at this point that all I am concentrating on is being ready with a mountain of songs when it comes time to hit the studio. I'd like to think later this year but who knows. It's hard to even think about the logistics when there's no guarantee of any time lines for ANYthing. This is all too surreal. The material will be the other end of the spectrum from "For All The People."

Do you have enough songs to record for a full length, whenever the opportunity comes for you to return to the studio?
I have a list of about 20 unrecorded songs. All under copyright and ready to go. I'll probably get an EP and a full length out of it. Time will tell. You can find demos of many of those songs on my YouTube page.

-Dave Wolff

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this interview. It's interesting that he used to be booked with mostly a 3 state triangle and add a local gig and that was a pretty good setup. Plus every account of how people are dealing with closures and how Covid has affected their business is important to keeping a record of what has happened to us all from this thing. Your questions drew out a lot of clear information.